(ThinkStock)It's hard to believe something as small as a peanut could cause so much controversy. But put it in a lunch bag and it can divide a school.
In Viola Arkansas, a debate is heating up, after a student had his peanut butter and jelly sandwich confiscated at lunchtime. Because the school has a no-peanut-products policy, the teacher helped the little boy get a new lunch and sent home a note explaining to his mom the situation.
Soon after, a School Nut Ban Discussion group was launched on Facebook by parents conflicted over the policy.
Some parents believe allergy-free students shouldn't have to cater to a few students' health sensitivities, particularly if it means cutting out healthy or low-cost snacks from home.
Denise Clifton-Jones, a nurse practitioner and mom of a Viola student believes allergic kids need to learn "how to manage the problem" without relying on what she calls a safety "bubble."
Other moms of special needs kids feel like they're playing second fiddle to those with allergies. "There are some autistic children that will only eat a PB&J sandwich or nothing at all," one mom opposing the ban argued on Facebook.
According to the Viola District Superintendent John May, this is the first pushback on a policy in place in his school for some time.
"The policy is in place to protect those with a severe, life threatening problem," May told Area Wide News, a near-by Missouri news site. "Until we figure out something else, it would be foolish to drop the policy."
Over the span of a decade, reports of kids with peanut allergies have spiked by 18 percent, according to the CDC. Today, about 1 in 25 children suffer from the condition, and about 18 percent of them have had attacks in school. As a result, school-wide peanut bans have doubled in the past two years. But they haven't been without a fight.
One connecticut mother whose child has peanut allergies was shocked by the hostility she was met with when she proposed a peanut ban in her own school. "People were extremely rude," she told ABC News. "They just thought it was a ridiculous request."
A child's well-being may have triggered the debate, the at the core of the conflict it's all about parenting styles. Are over-protective parents pushing their agenda or interfering with the nutritional plans of kids that don't belong to them? Some parents of peanut allergy kids are all too aware of how they're concerns are received.
"Nobody wants to be a Peanut Allergy Mom," writes Mommyish blogger Gloria Fallon, whose son has severe life-threatening peanut allergies. "I'm an apologetic PA mom - my main concern is my son's health, but I also don't want everyone to hate us. I actually am sorry for all the inconvenience having a PA kid creates. I know if my son didn't have food allergies, I'd probably think the kid who did was a pain in the a--. So I try to understand that for the most part, no one gets what we're going through."
Back in Viola, parents are proposing a compromise within the elementary school. As opposed to banning nuts, some schools require all their teachers to be trained in using EpiPens, a life-saving device used in severe allergic attacks. Separating nut-eaters from non-nut-eaters in the lunchroom is another approach to raising awareness within the school and creating harmony among the parents.
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a nut allergy advocacy group believes this approach is most beneficial for kids with allergies. "What we want is everyone always thinking there could be a possibility (of an allergic reaction) and be on guard for it," the group's founder, Anne Munoz-Furlong, told ABC news. Another concern among parents of allergic and non-allergic kids is whether kids can even be full protected from attacks, regardless of nut bans. Severely allergic kids can exhibit reactions just from coming into contact with someone who consumed peanuts before arriving at school. Educating kids without allergies on the importance of washing their own hands and being aware of friends with allergies is just as important say some worried parents.
But with compromise and heightened awareness comes new problems for kids. Isolating a child at a separate table because of their allergies can create social ostracism and lead to bullying. (The APA even cautions parents and teachers about the risk of harassment of kids with peanut allergies)
If peanut allergies are rough for parents, they're even harder for kids. Fallon says that every time she drops her son Nick off at a party, she has to run through worst case scenarios and procedures with the person in charge. "This usually results in the person looking frightened and probably wishing they didn't invite Nick," she says. "Nobody likes the finale, me especially."